Friday, January 14, 2011

Ten Rules by George Washington on Civility

In the wake of President Obama’s eulogy about civil discourse, I came across a beautiful little 30 page book containing 110 rules by George Washington, our first president, on how to behave civilly.

Applewood Books in Bedford, Massachusetts published this little volume in 1988. It has a red cover, simulating leather, with its title on the cover in embossed gold print. The title is George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.

As I read it, I thought, By George! This is something my readers ought to know. To give you a flavor of what our first President said, here are ten of his rules. These rules appeared before the electronic era in more personal settings. Still, you might want to heed them in ordinary conversation, or if you happen to appear on television or on a podium. As the debate over health reform moves forward, the media is likely to interview you, and President Washington's advice will ready you for the occasion.

#1 Every action ought to be done with some sign of respect to those who are present.

#2 Shake not the head, feet, or legs; roll not the eyes; lift not one eyebrow higher than the other; wry not the mouth, and bedew no man’s face with your spittle.

#3 Do not puff up the cheeks; loll not the tongue; rub the hands, thrust out the lips, or bite them, or keep the lips too open or close.

#4 Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another, though he were your enemy.

#5 When you meet with one of greater quality than yourself, stop, and retire.

#6 Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.

#7 In writing or speaking, give every person his due title according to his degree & the custom of the place.

#8 Do not express joy before one sick and in pain, for that contrary passion will aggravate his misery.

#9 Use no reproachful language against anyone; neither curse nor revile.

# 10 In disputes not so desirous to overcome as not to give liberty to each one to deliver his opinion and submit to the judgment of the major part, especially if they are judges of the dispute.

As President George Washington said in his farewell address, “Observe good faith and justice towards all. Cultivate peace and harmony with all.”

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